image of Amanda's fibre documentation books with labels for the article on Motivation & The Art of Project Management

Motivation & the Art of Project Management

I was looking for knitting needles—my 3.75 mm Chiagoo 80 cm circulars to be exact. They were around here somewhere. I just finished a spinning project, and I really wanted to knit a swatch to see how the yarn worked up. The lace Chiagoos, with their lovely pointy tip, were perfect for the job and I didn’t want to settle for anything else. Motivation was high. I was champing at the bit. Where were those needles?

I searched high. I searched low. I checked every box on every shelf.

It was in the last box. Typical. And why was it there? It was in a project bag with a work-in-progress (WIP). I had started Stephen West’s Twists and Turns but the project went from active to inactive to totally buried and forgotten all in the space of a few months. Now I know where the needles are, but I have a new decision to make… what to do with this shawl project?


Closeup image of Amanda's handspun yarns for the article on Motivation & The Art of Project Management
I have new yarn freshly spun and waiting for me. Now, where did I put those knitting needles?

Have you lost the motivation to work on your project?

Motivation, momentum, enthusiasm, initiative, drive, excitement, enterprise, mojo, gumption, oomph. Call it what you will, but that desire to want to keep working on your project is a crucial factor when it comes to managing our WIPs.

Robert M. Pirsig, in his 1974 philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, writes about gumption:

“If you’re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool. If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good.

Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in this whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption.”

Pirsig coins the phrase gumption trap. Whereas gumption is defined as shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness, a gumption trap is an event or mindset that causes us to lose that initiative. Finding yourself in a gumption trap means not only are you less likely to succeed at your project, but your degree of success suffers, too.

We all want to enjoy the time we spend on our projects, yes? We want to play with fibre and yarn, and we want to make glorious objects that we love and that are loved by the recipients of our handmade gifts. So, if we have lost our motivation, what do we do? We can see there are two different gumption traps: setbacks based on an event, and hang-ups based on our mindset. Let’s dig into these.

External circumstances: Setbacks

Sometimes we are faced with events that knock the wind from our sails. You were motoring along, plenty of gas in the tank, when you noticed something that stopped you in your tracks. Perhaps you found a mistake ten rows back in your crochet scarf or your brioche knit sweater? What about that time you discovered your 1% dye stock solution was actually a 2% dye stock solution… after you had started to dye your yarn? How did it make you feel? I bet you were a little less enthusiastic about the project!

Did you have enough oomph to overcome your obstacle or did your project get put in timeout?

Internal circumstances: Hang-ups

At other times, we bring our own issues to the project and our mindset gets in our way. Whether from ego, anxiety, or boredom, these issues can be an utter drag on our making! It is fascinating how often we hold ideas about ourselves like “I can’t learn to knit because I tried once, and it didn’t work.” Well, you won’t learn to knit with that attitude! We all bring all sorts of baggage with us, and it impacts how we experience and respond to the world. It may not always be rational, but it certainly impacts how we feel about the projects we work on.

Managing WIPs = Managing Gumption

Project management for our hobbies is kind of a weird topic. We don’t have the same drivers to successfully complete projects as we do for our professional work. Let’s face it—the expectations we have, the costs, and benefits: it is a different calculus. Instead, we have a delicate balance between the projects we want to start and the projects we have already started. Our motivation—our gumption—is dynamic and so learning to identify and face our setbacks and hang-ups is crucial to managing all those WIPs. Learning new ways of doing things and having a support network is a big part of the puzzle.

An image of a brown basket with in-progress knitting in pink and grey yarn
I found my knitting needles with this WIP. No longer languishing in a box on a shelf, this project is ready for action.

I originally put my shawl on hold because of a deadline for a different project. It was a mystery knit-along that I approached with doubt rather than with anticipation and so I didn’t have much drive to get back to it straight away. I do want to finish it up rather than rip it out, so my motivation to reclaim the knitting needles has put enough gas in the tank for me to tackle my WIP.

Do you have a WIP that has stalled? What caused it to stall? Post about it in the forums and perhaps we can motivate each other to success!

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